Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: October 25, 2005
Welcome to Bloody October. In only a few weeks, hot on the heels of Activision's release of Quake 4, they will push Infinity Ward's much-anticipated creation for the PC to the store shelves for you to enjoy the rush of sending Axis forces to their deaths. Call of Duty 2 features gameplay as Russian, British and American forces in the European Theatre during key moments of WWII. As a sequel to one of the hottest games of 2003 and a launch title for the Xbox 360, there's been plenty of hype around this game, and the patient wait for the demo has finally ended. If you've taken the time to download it, you will see that Call of Duty 2 is faster, prettier, and more intense than ever.
With the new COD2 engine, the game creates an environment that lends itself to the hours of gaming that most will spend in the simulated realms of a world that existed 60 years ago. Like the previous title, Call of Duty 2 has already locked down the ability to simulate a historical world in a way that leaves the player with a greater appreciation of the experience. For today's game players, the concept of a world at war is just something they've heard about in movies, books, or maybe stories from grandparents. If you have heard anything about this time, there is one common theme: scarcity. With that many people fighting around the world, there was always a shortage of resources, and those who were doing the fighting made do with what they had. Call of Duty 2 is doing a good job of simulating that environment, with bolt-action rifles, iron sights, no body armor, and the occasional situation of very uneven odds.
Of course, if you played Call of Duty, you have seen this world before. With a new game engine, the world does look better, but not radically different. With that said, there are some things that the new engine has really done well that truly define the new experience. Already present in Call of Duty 2 is an excellent particle presence that not only creates very realistic clouds from your smoke grenades, but also provides enhancement of the gameplay in depth-of-field and lighting of the environments. This improvement is beneficial in both wide open spaces and close quarters. For example, if you get to the point in the demo where you need to neutralize four artillery guns, the smoke will not only rise as destruction occurs, but tossing smoke grenades at strategic intervals can keep the Germans at the far end from seeing you. On more difficult settings, this gives you a fighting chance, as only half of their forces are firing at you, and one particularly menacing sniper from afar can be held at bay until he's close enough for you to shoot back.
In close quarters combat, it means effective lighting, and more importantly that you can see where your grenades went off. When playing Call of Duty 2 at higher difficulty levels, strategic use of grenades is critical. With practice, grenades can be tossed into buildings, down hallways, and even down stairwells to neutralize pockets of resistance. The smoke left behind from the grenade's explosion gives good hints to skill in grenade-tossing accuracy. In other areas, the particle engine enhancements significantly improve the experience. For example, in a pipeline level, you utilize the defunct pipeline to surprise the enemy at certain points along the way. If you are found out, the enemies' efforts to kill you should make you panic. If it didn't already, all the little points of light shining in through the hazy air in the pipe will make you panic as the enemy soldiers turn the pipeline into swiss cheese. Overall, we're seeing that the improvements possible from the new engine in Call of Duty 2 will assist greatly with the subtleties that make a player feel part of the game.
It is important to note that Call of Duty 2 is what Infinity Ward called a "healthless" first-person shooter. Essentially, this means that the player's health follows the Halo model; you take damage, but if you are safe from enemy fire for several seconds, you return to full strength. Call of Duty 2 completely does away with the health meter concept, but still provides the player with feedback about how close an untimely death is. Infinity Ward enabled a bloody red border for the screen during gameplay, and if it shows up, you are hurt. In a typical situation during a game set on easy difficulty, there will be an enemy getting some grazing hits on you. The blood-border will slowly grow as your health deteriorates, covering more than 30% of the screen area in the last few moments before an enemy ends your pathetic Allied existence.
Different factors, like difficulty level, frequency of enemy hits, and intensity of the attack will affect how much of this border a player will see during Call of Duty 2 . As another example, if you take just one slight hit, it won't be enough to cause a very noticeable appearance of the border, but the deadliness of a grenade blast is noticeably greater. With all the grenade action throughout the game, it can have a significant effect on how aggressive a player is, depending on whether they've been hit recently when a grenade lands in close proximity.
While this vague representation of health lends a little unpredictability to Call of Duty 2 , it seems to be balanced by the fact that the amount of time you need to spend without damage is relatively short. Hide behind a wall, a desk, or a pile of sandbags for a few seconds, and all injury is forgiven.
Call of Duty 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor in nearly every way. Take some missions and structure them around a fairly simple objective or set of objectives, and dump you in a fairly wide-open map that provides some guidance for the best route to success. That's what we've seen, but there are some great twists that should let you know that the game is much more than the demo shows.
The personal favorite we got our hands on took place in Stalingrad. Here was the historic battle where the Russians just kept sending man after man to his death, desperately hoping that the human desire to survive would overcome the superior technology of the German forces. We enter a scenario where a forward position maintains communication through a copper line – radios are in short supply – and the constant fighting and bombing within the war-torn city constantly damage the line. During this scenario, the player must progress through the level, patching the damaged line at regular intervals, while leading a squad of poorly armed Russians through a seemingly endless German shooting gallery. Picture it: Germans around every corner, machine gun alleys everywhere, and enough grenades to kill your squad 50 times over. It did seem that the AI in this level still needed some work, though. One example was when your comrades tossed grenades in the disabled tanks… they just stood on top and got killed when the grenade they tossed in finally exploded.
Multiplayer for Call of Duty 2 also looks to have a lot in store for players looking to get online and kill some live, human competition. Of course, your standard death match is there alongside capture the flag, but the other modes also hold promise. One of the most interesting variations is where the radios randomly spawn, and one team must defend it against the other's attacks. Once the team to defend the radio is chosen, the defenders only die once, while the attackers endlessly respawn to attack the defending position. Points are scored by the amount of time the radio is defended.
Overall, the multiplayer experience looks to be coming along to meet expectations, which are quite high for a title like Call of Duty 2 . The Xbox 360 will feature all the standard online and offline multiplayer modes we've come to expect, but will you be able to wait a month after the PC launch to play Call of Duty 2 when the Xbox 360 finally is released? We're not sure just what you would do, but we are pretty sure of this: Call of Duty 2 is nearly finished.
The question lies in whether Infinity Ward can give Activision a title that can pull off as a sequel what Halo 2 was able to: make it bigger, prettier, and more immersive without screwing up what you got right in the first place. So far, our comrades at Infinity Ward look to be on the right track, and when we're all able to fight the battle of Stalingrad later this month, we hope they'll have succeeded.
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